Elon Musk sells seats on SpaceX moon mission to Japanese billionaire

The billionaire is also inviting eight artists along with him. It would be the first time a civilian crew has participated in a mission to the moon.

  • The billionaire is Yusaku Maezawa, a 42-year-old Japanese entrepreneur who founded the clothing website Zozo.
  • Maezawa, SpaceX's first paying passenger, purchased all the open seats on the first-of-its-kind mission.
  • Maezawa is calling the mission an art project, dubbed #dearMoon.
  • Elon Musk says Maezawa's risky investment in #dearMoon has "done a lot to restore my faith in humanity."

If you're an artist whose work catches the eye of Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, you might soon receive an extraordinary invitation: a seat on a spacecraft headed for the moon.

At a SpaceX event on Monday night, CEO Elon Musk and Maezawa, an art collector who made a fortune selling albums and clothing, announced plans to send the first civilian crew to space in 2023. The crew is scheduled to blast off from Earth, circle the moon, and return, a trip that's estimated to take four to five days.

The mission will be dangerous, Musk said, adding that Maezawa was "the bravest person" and "the best adventurer." SpaceX plans to launch the crew into space on a new rocket it's developing: the long-awaited BFR, which is also scheduled (aspirationally) to transport humans to Mars in 2022.

Maezawa purchased all the open seats on the first-of-its-kind mission, though the amount he paid is unclear. The billionaire plans to invite up to eight artists to join him on the lunar adventure.

Musk seemed taken with the idea.

"I'll tell you, it's done a lot to restore my faith in humanity," Musk said. "That somebody is willing to do this, take their money and help fund this new project that's risky, might not succeed, it's dangerous. He's like donating seats. These are great things."

​Project #dearMoon

Maezawa, who founded the shopping website Zozotown and is estimated to be worth more than $2 billion, views the upcoming mission as a "revolutionary art project" dubbed #dearMoon.

The project already has a website.

"I did not want to have such a fantastic experience by myself," Maezawa said. "I want to share these experiences and things with as many people as possible. That is why I choose to go to the moon with artists."

Maezawa is no stranger to the art world. As a former drummer in a California rock band, the 42-year-old made headlines in 2017 when he spent $110.5 million on a Basquiat painting, an untitled work roughly depicting a skull, at a Sotheby's auction.

"I decided to go for it," he said about the purchase.

Maezawa said he later wondered, "what if Basquiat had gone to space and seen the moon up close?"

He elaborated that thought in a post on the #dearMoon website.

"If Pablo Picasso had been able to see the moon up-close,
what kind of paintings would he have drawn?
If John Lennon could have seen the curvature of the Earth,
what kind of songs would he have written?
If they had gone to space, how would the world have looked today?"

Maezawa said he's loved the moon ever since he was a kid and that he thinks his art project could contribute toward world peace.

"Why do I want to go to the moon? What do I want to do there? For me this project is very meaningful," Maezawa said. "I thought long and hard about how it would be very valuable to become the first private passenger to go to the moon. At the same time, I thought how I could give to the world and how this could contribute to world peace. This is my lifelong dream."

The entrepreneur plans to personally reach out to a handful of artists, which could include painters, photographers, musicians, film directors, fashion designers, and architects.

"By the way, if you should hear from me please say yes and accept my invitation," he said. "Please don't say no."

At the end of the event, Maezawa offered one of the seats to Musk.

"As far as me going, I'm not sure," Musk said. "Maybe we'll both be on it."

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